Shooting "Photographing" Venomous snakes.

Thread starter #1
Someone has asked me to go into a little more detail on how I find and get some of the snake shots that I post. As far as finding them in the wild goes, I've always been pretty good at that. Being an "amateur" herpetologist for about 20 years now I have learned a great deal about my favorite critters habits and habitat preferences. On a good day of Herpin it is not uncommon for me to find a dozen snakes or more. There are days that I strike out however. Spring and fall are the best times for snakin in my neck of the woods. Summer is OK if you are willing to stay up all night and look for them. Many species become nocturnal during the scorching months.

I also come into contact with several animals via 911 calls in the surrounding area. I'll usually store these animals for a few hours till I can get some shots of them then I release them. Additionally, I keep several venomous animals for use in my herpetology lectures. So I always have something around to photograph.

Now, when it comes to photographing venomous snakes one must remember 3 things.
SAFETY, SAFETY, AND THEN SAFETY.

Do not just go out and find a 5 foot Cottonmouth and stick a lens in its face. Be careful, if you do not have a ton of experience with venomous snakes you need to stay at least double their strike range away. Strike range is roughly between a 3rd and 1/2 body length. I have worked with some of the most dangerous snakes on earth in the wild and in captivity. I have to a degree learned certain behaviors and body language that let me know to watch what I do. I am by no means a "snake whisperer". Any wild animal can bite you at any time, they are not predictable. I always stay out of strike range even if the pictures say different.

A stretched out animal is safer to shoot because it has no leverage or kinetic energy to strike. If I am shooting a stretched out animal I will take a little more liberty. If I see that animal start to coil up I will immediately reposition. While shots of a coiled up jumbo rattler are indeed awesome they can also be the most dangerous.

A telephoto or long range macro are a must when working with hot snakes. It is also a good idea to have a spotter watch the animal. More than once I've been so into shooting that I did not realize the animal had gotten dangerously close. When out in the open many snakes will crawl towards the nearest shade. That may be You!! Be careful!!

The easiest venomous snakes to work with are the rattlers. Usually slow and cumbersome, not likely to close the distance between you and them in a hurry. Hardest ones are the Cottonmouth and Copperhead. Some times its hard to get them to be still and when they get going they can really move. If youre lucky you can find a cottonmouth that will stand its ground and let you take all the pictures you want. Most of the ones I encounter head for cover immediately and no I've never had one chase me!

Coral snakes are also a pain to work with. Small, quirky and unsettled they are always looking for something to get under and will not be still. Did I mention they are the most venomous new world snake. Something to keep in mind.

If you think you want to try this remember, safety first. Work with a few non-venomous snakes first to maybe get the hang of it. Learn how they move but more importantly how well do you move to get out of their way? I have never been bitten by a hot animal and surely do not want anyone I know getting bit. Especially if they are just trying to get some okay shots like the ones I post.

Yes I'm a little crazy, but I also have two decades of experience working with these animals. I have never been bitten by a venomous snake.

Now, where is that piece of wood to knock on!

Hope this helps out those who are interested, everyone please be safe!!!!!

Jason
 
This is an awesome post but unless you can explain how to take excellent photos of Snakes with their heads duct taped back on....i am at a loss!!! :) Just kidding,...I do not photograph snakes but your pictures are totally amazing!!!!!!!
 

leo

Retired Woody's Mod 7/01-12/09
Nice tutorial on getting the snake shots, thanks for sharing it.... I added it to our Photo tricks of the trade (Tutorials) Sticky
 
Thread starter #4
If any of you are ever in my area and want to shoot some animals just drop me a note. Like I said, at any given time I have several animals. Would be glad to meet you somewhere and let you take a few shots.

I said in the above post that cottonmouths and copperheads were the hardest to work with. I was refering to domestic animals here in GA. I have worked with some that were much harder to wrangle. Most notably Cobras and the lancehead vipers of central and south America. I've had a jumbo Fer-de-lance make shooting extremely hairy more than once!
 

Hoss

Moderator
Great tutorial. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience to help others to get better photos and even more important, be SAFE.

Oh and your OK photos are a good bit better than that.

Hoss
 
Thread starter #6
Another thing I forgot to mention that is very important. While it is legal to capture, kill or harass a venomous snake in Georgia. It is not legal to do so with a non-venomous animal. These are protected under the non-game species protection act. Yes I do have several in captivity but I also hold the neccesary permits to do so. In addition to staying safe, you also want to stay legal.
 
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